Royals Halt Skyhawks With Toughness
By Ryan Lazo, sports editor
Sep 3, 2014, 21:37
Alex Flickinger gets set to return this volley during a Royals win.
PRINCE GEORGE — In just their second home match of the season, the Royals volleyball team had everything going their way in the opening set. After taking the opening point with a perfect spike in between two Skyhawks rising to block the volley by Eddie Saunders, Prince George went on a 7-1 run to take much of the momentum.
The quick start to the set would be enough for the Royals to hold firm and capture a decisive 25-17 victory. Then, it seemed like it would be more of the same for Prince George in the second set. In fact, it was a kill from Sam Burch which handcuffed a Skyhawks' player, that forced L.C. Bird to call a timeout and contemplate a scoreboard which read a 15-9 deficit.
However, the timeout was just what the Skyhawks needed as they orchastrated a dominating 16-to-1 run to close out the second set with a 25-16 victory, shocking the Royals in the process. While most teams would unravel at the mere concept of being on the receiving end of a set like L.C. Bird delivered, Prince George regrouped and responded the way good teams do.
The Royals rose up from the adversity and fought back against a confident Skyhawks team which refused to lay down in the final two sets. But whenever L.C. Bird inched ever closer to taking another set and forcing the match to go the distance, the Royals answered back with a big block or kill. It was the stepping stone to an eventual four-set victory in which Prince George earned their second-win of the season and learned about the toughness needed to compete at the highest level.
"I was extremely pleased with the way they responded, but that is the thing that we've been working on," head coach Mayes Marks said after the win. "We really have just one senior in our first rotation, so we circle three or four guys up from JV and I'm trying to get that toughness in them."
Although the toughness may not have been within the Royals' players prior to the opening serve of the contest, it surely was among them after the game. Prince George was tested mentally by the big second-set swing, but also with mini runs made by the Skyhawks throughout the contest.
After a huge block from Burch, one of his three on the night, gave the Royals a four-point advantage, L.C. Bird eventually tied the game at 13-13. Yet, during a lengthy exchange between the two teams, Alex Flickinger picked up one of his five blocks to change momentum.
In the fourth and final set, Prince George faced a four-point deficit on three different occasions before Jose Zepeda changed the direction of the game with a finesse shot which found hardwood. The Royals would then rally back to take the lead and exhibit the toughness they need, something which can only be fostered in close contests.
"This is a hard sport to push them in practice enough to get that toughness," Marks explained. "I'm a little worried because we have a gap of about 10 days, so I'm already trying to figure out how I can get some other players to come in and keep us playing at this level."
One of the players sure to keep Prince George playing at a high-level is Zepeda. The player who excites on the pitch as a key member of the Royals' soccer team has translated some of those skills into a devastating volleyball player.
In fact, it was Zepeda's big kills which incited fear in the Skyhawks and gave confidence to the rest of his teammates. But for all of the powerful spikes Zepeda laid down on L.C. Bird, and there were surely a lot of them on this night, he also beat them with his mind.
Jose Zepeda's monstrous spikes were momentum-changing.
On numerous occasions, Zepeda would rise above the net and wind-up, leaving Skyhawks' defenders to prepare for the eventual spike. However, none would come. Instead, he allowed himself to slowly return to the hardwood and softly tap the ball in between L.C. Bird players — he had nine kills on the night — for momentum-changing point-swings. It's something which makes Marks want to get the ball to him more often.
"We should have just kept feeding him because I didn't see them get up to get the block going," Marks said. "I think the guys were backing up because they knew what was coming."
But he was not alone with his production on this night. Flickinger also supplied much of the offensive attack, delivering nine kills in addition to his five blocks. In fact, his long arms helped obstruct would-be kill attempts from the Skyhawks and providing a mental edge to the Royals.
Additionally, Burch produced from the service position, leading Prince George with 10 server points in the win. Both players will figure to be keys to the Royals' success this season.
"We had Flickinger jumping the other day and he's got the long arms to make a difference," Marks said. "If we can get that play out of our middle guys, we're going to do well this year. I thought it was a good move starting Burch in the first service position for us as well."
While one win does not make a season, the win over the Skyhawks provided the blueprint for a successful Royals campaign. Whether the young team can build on it, however, remains the question moving forward.